What is dialogic reading?

Carmen Zavala Iturbe

Carmen studied philosophy at UNAM (National University in Mexico) and has been an English teacher and teacher trainer for more than 20 years. She has worked as an editor and publishing manager since 1997, and is currently Publishing Manager at Cambridge University Press. In this post, she explores the interactive world of dialogic reading. Whatever the age and level of your students, this is an approach you can incorporate into their learning experience.

“Dialogic reading draws on sociocultural learning theory to suggest that scaffolded interactions between children and adults during reading will result in language gains, particularly with regard to vocabulary development, oral complexity and narrative skills. There is also evidence that the experience of dialogic reading correlates with future literacy skills.” (Watkins, 2018)

Dialogic reading is the process of having a dialogue with students around the text they are reading. This dialogue involves asking questions to help children explore the text at a deeper level, including defining new words, analyzing the components of a story and being able to talk about the text. In other words, dialogic reading is a form of guided and scaffolded reading where the focus is on interpretive and critical comprehension more than on accuracy and fluency.

Dialogic reading is…

  • Interactive
  • For students of all ages
  • For students of all levels
  • Effective with both fiction and non-fiction texts
  • Student centred


Dialogic reading isn’t…

  • Passive listening
  • Teacher centred
  • Mechanical


Why is dialogic reading useful?

It can be a valuable tool for developing literacy skills. By modeling how good readers think, it teaches learners to become better readers. It can help improve skills such as print awareness, oral language and comprehension.

How do I implement dialogic reading?

By reading the text several times with learners and interacting with them through prompts and questions at different levels.

The basic dialogic reading technique is the P.E.E.R. sequence. This is where the teacher:

– Prompts the child to say something about the text
– Evaluates the response
– Expands on the child’s answer by rephrasing it or by adding information
– Repeats the prompts to see if the child has learned from the expansion

What kind of prompts do I give my students?

There are five types of prompts typically used in dialogic reading. These can be remembered with the acronym C.R.O.W.D.:

C – Completion prompts
Learners are asked to fill in a blank at the end of a sentence. They are typically used with rhyme stories or repetitive phrases.
For example: The dog’s name was… Uncle Jim turns off the… The horse is a good…

R – Recall prompts
Children are asked to say in their own words what has happened so far in a story or text. They can also be asked to talk about a story they have already read. Recall prompts help learners understand a text or remember events. For example: What happened to the boy? What is the first thing that the girl saw? Who found the book?

O – Open-ended prompts
Children are usually asked to focus on the pictures that accompany a text. The aim is for learners to notice details and to check comprehension. For example: What is happening in this part of the story? Where is the police officer? Who can you see in this picture?

W – Wh-prompts
These prompts are usually questions that begin with what, where, when, why, and how. Children are asked to look for a specific correct response.
For example: (Pointing to a picture) Who is this? What color is her dress? What does this animal eat? What’s the weather like?

D – Distancing prompts
Children are asked questions that help them reflect on their own experiences, based on the input from the text. They help children form a bridge between a text and the real world.
For example: How do you celebrate your birthday? What would you have done if you had lost your book? How would you feel if that happened to you?

Can I use dialogic reading to expand students’ vocabulary?

One of the aims of dialogic reading is to strengthen learners’ oral language skills and in the case of language learners, to expand their vocabulary. For this, it can be useful to distinguish between Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 words:

Tier 1 – Basic words
These are words that students are expected to know, i.e. high-frequency, every-day words. For example: pencil, boy, jump, cat, blue.

Tier 2 – High-frequency words These are words that are used in a variety of contexts. For example: calm, leader, lovely, suddenly, warning.

Tier 3 – Context-specific words
These words are specific to a domain and are best learned when they are needed in specific content area. For example: abstract, geothermal, humour, rhythm, clue.

Choosing which words to teach before a text is key to effective instruction. In general, learners benefit most from being pre-taught Tier 2 words that appear in a text. This is because knowing these words will help them better understand the text. Tier 2 words can be called ‘highly-useful’ words because they empower learners to have command of academic language.

Top tips

  • Keep reading light and fun
  • Find out your students’ interests and focus the prompts on these
  • Switch from periods of reading for enjoyment to prompts
  • Vary the types of prompts
  • Re-read texts that students like
  • Encourage students to be creative in their responses



Watkins, P. (2018). Extensive reading for primary in ELT Part of the Cambridge Papers in ELT series. [pdf] Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

If you are interested in exploring more creative activities, particularly for little ones, have a look at ‘Springtime activities for teaching young learners‘.

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